Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn, has set up a forum on patronage and pluralism in primary schools. His statement defines the forum’s role as follows:
[To advise him]
1. how it can best be ensured that the education system can provide a sufficiently diverse number and range of primary schools catering for all religions and none;
2. the practicalities of how transfer/divesting of patronage should operate for individual primary schools in communities where it is appropriate and necessary;
3. how such transfer/divesting can be advanced to ensure that demands for diversity of patronage (including from an Irish language perspective) can be identified and met on a widespread basis nationally.
On the face of it, this looks like progress in removing the bishops from control of our primary schools, but ominously, Quinn’s statement goes on to say
In undertaking this work the Forum will, in particular, have regard for the following:
the expressed willingness of the Roman Catholic Church to consider divesting patronage of primary schools the current financial constraints within which the State is operating, the need for continued restraint into the future and the requirement in this context to make maximum use of existing school infrastructure in catering for future demands
Clearly, Quinn is treading carefully with the bishops, and he’s also sending out a signal that the money might not be there to do a root-and-branch job, but at least it’s a sign of progress. If his performance here is anything to go by, Quinn has already stated his position on clerical control of schools in fairly bald terms, even accusing officials in the department of being members of secret societies determined to frustrate reform.
We’ll wait and see.
An advisory group will hear the views put forward in the forum and advise the minister on future policy. Its members are Dr. John Coolahan, Professor Emeritus at NUI Maynooth, Dr. Caroline Hussey, former Registrar and Deputy President, UCD and Fionnuala Kilfeather, former Chief Executive of the National Parents Council – Primary.
These are the participating bodies in the forum, and submissions will also be invited from the public.
An Foras Pátrúnachta
Catholic Primary Schools Management Association
Church of Ireland Board of Education
Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools
Irish Catholic Bishops Conference
Irish National Teachers Organisation
Irish Primary Principals’ Network
Irish Vocational Education Association
Islamic Foundation of Ireland
National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education
National Parents Council – Primary
Other posts on school patronage